The Bongo


The bongo is a percussion instrument, made of 2 separated barrels but fixed between them. This instrument, originated from Cuba is a pair of cylinders or truncated cones, made of wood or synthetic fibber, and of one membrane.
These barrels of the same height have got different diameters.
In the beginning, they were covered by a piece of cloth; the bongo was then put down on the thighs to be played.


This piece of cloth has been replaced by a piece of wood, making it possible to the percussionist to maintain the cylinders between the fold of his knees.
In the first times, the skins (made of calf skin) were heated with a flame to tune the instrument. This need of a flame or candle has been solved, at the end of the Forties: the Vergarra brothers who lived in the district of Reparto Lawton in Havana modernized the conga and the bongo by adding a system of metal keys


Reparto Lawton from Havana updated the conga and the bongo by adding a system of metallic keys to fix the skins. It ended the moment when the orchestra before playing, needed to heat the instrument!
The Western music orchestras placed the bongo on a stand and played it with drumsticks.The basic rhythmic of the bongo is the martillo (small hammer), also called " a caballo " (on horseback), to play rather fast.

The basic bongo rhythm is the martillo (small hammer), also called "a caballo" (with horse), to play rather quickly.
The smallest barrel (the acute one) is called "macho" ("male" in Spanish), and is placed on the left for the right-hander. The largest (low register), that is placed on the right, is named "hembra" ("female" in Spanish).
The martillo maintains the rhythm by accentuating strong times on the macho, while the fourth time (or ponche) is marked on hembra.
In the Latin music, the bongosero also follows and plays the bell (campana or cencerro) in the impromptu sections of montunos. This very acute sonority and the speed of movements inherent to the small size of the bongo make it possible to the percussionist to improvise with volubility and to weave a rhythmic texture, without never really leaving the role of maintenance and rhythmic stability of the martillo.
The variations and improvisations of the bongo are called "spottings".
The bongo is mainly used in the changüi, the Cuban sound, the bolero, the salsa and the bachata.
Among the famous bongoseros, let us quote Roberto Roena, Ray Romero and Johnny "Dandy" Rodriguez.